- Jesus, Mary, and Joseph: Family Trouble in the Infancy Gospels by Christopher A. Frilingos, and: Holy Terror: Jesus in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas by J. R. C. Cousland
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph: Family Trouble in the Infancy Gospels
Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017
Pp. xv + 183. $39.95.
Holy Terror: Jesus in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas
Library of New Testament Studies 560
London: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2018
Pp. xi + 148. $114.
Book-length commentaries on apocryphal texts appear far less frequently than commentaries on the books of the canon. But there has been a recent increase in attention paid to apocryphal literature, so much that the last decade has seen four major monographs on the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and another three on the Protevangelium of James—more than were published on these texts in the entire twentieth century. This new interest has been made possible by the willingness of modern scholars to recognize the significant role played by these texts in Christian piety over the centuries. Earlier readers of the infancy gospels certainly took these texts seriously; we should do no less. The two monographs under review here certainly do take the infancy gospels seriously and contribute much to discussions of their origins and intentions.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph by Christopher Frilingos represents a significant shift in approach to the two texts. Instead of the inadequate term "infancy gospels," Frilingos prefers to call them "family gospels" and focuses his attention, not on the usual topics of the purity of Mary and the curses of the young Jesus, but on the dynamics among the three family members. He calls the texts "dramas of knowledge" containing "stories about what is known and what remains unknown in a small household" (12). Frilingos takes his cues here from Meir Sternberg's view that "a parallel of knowledge between intratextual characters [End Page 500] and extratextual readers operate in the biblical stories" (9), leading Sternberg to raise questions that "expose the fallible perception of characters in the narrative and remind readers of the limits of their own understanding" (10). This approach allows Frilingos to delve deep into the stories and tease out their ramifications for the Holy Family, so deep that he almost loses himself in the fiction, posing such questions as "Years later, what would Mary and Joseph have remembered from this first trip as a family to Jerusalem?" (113) and "What kind of pressure did living with the presence of supernatural power put on this family?" (59). Sensing that his approach may confuse his readers, Frilingos states early in the book that he is fully aware that the tales are fictional and explains that his intention is to "focus on the storytelling" (12) and encourages his readers to do the same.
After a brief preface and introduction situating the texts in their time period and outlining his methodology, Frilingos takes his readers through several key episodes in the two texts. The first chapter, "Family Matters," begins with a discussion on the importance of family in early Christianity and its wider Greco-Roman world. Then Frilingos applies his theme of knowledge to a second-century debate over the veracity of stories from Jesus's childhood. The Marcosians (as presented by Irenaeus) used Thomas's story of Jesus and the teacher and Luke's Jesus in the Temple to demonstrate their view that God is unknowable, whereas John Chrysostom denied Jesus performed any miracles before the "first sign" at the wedding at Cana (John 2.1–12); if he had, Chrysostom argued, Jesus would be well known before he reached adulthood. In Chapter Two, "Made You Look," Frilingos examines episodes of violence in the texts: the curses of the child Jesus on teachers and children in Thomas, and the withering of Salome's hand in James. Frilingos relates these episodes to spectacles of violence, such as executions in the Roman arenas, and suggests they are used in the gospels to draw the reader's attention: "if these moments startle the intratextual audience then they must have been designed to do the same to the...